By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
The legacy of Millersville University wrestling coach Floyd "Shorty'' Hitchcock goes far beyond his accomplishments as one of the greatest wrestlers to ever don a singlet and snap on the head gear.
His affect on the wrestling community may never end.
Talk to anyone who wrestled with, against or for him and the stories about the former Shamokin High School coach and NCAA champion from Bloomsburg University just spill out. Then sit back and enjoy the stories.
Until a few months ago, Hitchcock didn't grasp how many lives he had touched since he left his hometown of Wyalusing, where he was a two-time state wrestling champion.
Hitchock's world came crashing down in September when he learned he had pancreatic cancer.
He was told he had six months to live. The news came one day after the terrorist attacks on the U.S.
A man whose physique alone was enough to terrify opponents, who was so strong he once broke his own ribs while putting an opponent into a headlock, who earned his wrestlers' respect despite seemingly pushing them beyond their limits, is now at the mercy of a disease which usually takes no prisoners.
Those who know Hitchcock will not be surprised that the disease never dampened his spirits. Heck, until he took a turn for the worse in recent days, they didn't even keep him from coaching.
Although former Elizabethtown College head coach Steve Capoferri has come on board to handle most of Hitchcock's duties, the latter went to the practices and meets most of the season.
"The only one I didn't make was the long trip to Duquesne,'' Hitchcock said during an interview last month. "I can't get down on the mat and do what I usually do, and I miss that a lot.''
Just like he has done as a competitor and a coach, Hitchcock always looks for the positive in his situation.
During that recent interview, he said, "I was reading an article last night that said the survival rate from cancer has hit a record high.
"You have to have hope that something will come along the next day that will bring a miracle your way.''
Hitchcock is in his 18th season as the head coach for the Marauders and for the past 18 years he also taught third grade in the Hamilton Elementary School in Lancaster.
As painful as it was, Hitchcock had to give up teaching and accept disability assistance.
"I went back (to teaching) for three days. I tried to do it, but I just couldn't. I had no energy. I didn't realize how much the (chemotherapy) zaps you.''
The ordeal began in July. Hitchcock noticed blood in his urine. It was determined that, instead of blood, it was bio, a backup from the intestines.
Hitchcock spent nine days in a hospital and was given an appointment to see a doctor at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore in September.
That's where he received the diagnosis and underwent surgery.
"When they tell you that you only have six months to live, it's a big, rude awakening,'' he said.
Hitchcock met with his team immediately after returning from Baltimore. "I told them the truth right from the get-go. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. I get really close to my athletes.
"But they have been very supportive. If I need a ride home &emdash; sometimes I can't drive &emdash; they take me home or they come and get me. They are willing to do whatever I ask them to do,'' he said.
It's been even tougher for his family. He and his wife, the appropriately named Hope, have three children, Megan, a junior at Bloomsburg University, plus Matthew, 18, and Meredith, 10, at home.
"We have hospice coming to the house now and they're going through some counseling,'' he said of his children. "It's a tough thing. Their dad's got so much time to live. All of a sudden, they could be without him any day.''
Hitchcock, however, doesn't allow himself to think that way.
"I just had a CAT scan (Jan. 11) to find out if the chemo has been working and they found out that my chest is cancer free," he said.
"My stomach is no better, but no worse, so I guess as long as it's not growing, that's a positive.''
Positive thinking is what is expected by those who have known Hitchcock.
Selinsgrove High School wrestling coach Todd Myers, who wrestled for him at Millersville, said, "He is always making people feel good about themselves and that's his attitude about his illness. Nothing is going to keep him down. If anyone can overcome something like this, it's going to be Shorty.''
Another of Hitchcock's ex-wrestlers, Bryan Budock, a former head coach at Line Mountain High School and now the school's elementary wrestling coordinator, said, "He is very strong-willed and I'm sure the one thing that bothers him a lot is that he can't get in there and get down and dirty with the kids as much as he used to.''
In his heyday, Hitchcock did much more.
The first words that usually come out when acquaintances describe him are "wild and crazy.''
Myers recalls that Hitchock used to play a game called "commando'' in which he would run through the nearby woods and fields, challenging the wrestlers to find and catch him.
"He would say, 'You have a half hour to catch me. If nobody catches me, we come back in for practice. If you catch me, practice is over,' '' Myers said.
"We'd be running through briars and thickets and we were never able to catch him, until one day, he ran to the Conestoga River. Shorty had a straw in his mouth and was lying in the bottom of the river, and it was the middle of November.
"We caught Shorty that day, but he said we all had to go into the river first and then practice would be over,'' Myers said.
Hitchock's assistant coach for his two-year tenure at Shamokin (1974-75 and 1975-76), Joe Bordell, said, "He's larger than life. I compare him to (legendary Iowa coach and two-time NCAA champion Dan) Gable.
"You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in wrestling who hasn't met or hasn't heard of Shorty. He was larger than life the two years he was here. We had great fun,'' Bordell said.
Warrior Run High School coach Wayne Smythe and his assistant, Randy Watts, himself an NCAA champion, were teammates of Hitchcock at Bloomsburg.
"Shorty's nature is definitely of a caring and loving kind of person, a people person, that's what made him so special,'' Watts said.
Smythe said, "He was the most powerful wrestler that I've ever been around. He would just play with me the few times we'd practice together.
"More than the wrestling person, I think of Shorty himself. He was just fun to be around. It didn't matter what kind of situation, he was always fun, a true people person, who makes everybody around him happier.''
Smythe said that it's amazing to look at Hitchock's accomplishments (which included winning a state team title with three individual champions at Lake-Lehman in 1981, winning a world title and the NCAA 177-pound championships in both Division I and Division II for Bloomsburg in 1974).
"But there should be another line on his resume for how well he communicated and dealt with people," Smythe said. "Those kinds of things are the really important things in life.
"I consider it a privilege to have known Shorty. He touched all of our lives."
Hitchcock continues to battle his toughest foe yet, determined to conquer it just like he has done with so many opponents over the years.
He takes comfort in the never-ending stream of letters, the phone calls and the visits.
"I probably have 700 or 800 letters. I get them every day, from all over the country. It's hard to believe how much you have touched lives,'' he said.
"My door is like a spinning wheel here. It even gets to a point where I put notes on the door that I'd rather not have company today. It's not that I don't like to have it, but sometimes you need your own privacy.''
Meanwhile, life goes on for the Millersville wrestling team.
"I think the team is doing real well and it's in good hands with Steve. The future looks good for them,'' he said.
And Hitchcock has continued to hold out hope that he would be a part of that future.
Despite his condition, he continued to help with recruiting and said his medical condition did not hinder that process.
"(The recruits) have been very receptive. I don't think they think I won't be here,'' he said.
"They know I am a strong person and when I tell them I'm going to be here next year, they take that and say, 'I bet he will, then.' ''
By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
Former Line Mountain High School wrestling coach Bryan Budock claims that the coach for his final two seasons at Millersville University, Floyd "Shorty'' Hitchcock, was "definitely old school.''
Selinsgrove coach Todd Myers has proof. Or, at least he did.
Myers, who was married, went home from practice one night during his junior year at Millersville and went to bed. His wife noticed that his stomach was bleeding a little bit.
"She looked at me and saw teeth marks.
"She said, 'What happened to you?' I said, 'I was wrestling with Shorty at practice and he bit me,' '' Myers recalled. "He took me down and bit me in the stomach.''
"He pushed you to your limit. Every practice was like that with him. We did very little technique, we mainly worked on the mental aspect,'' Myers said. "I have the utmost respect for him for what he taught me.''
Another time, Millersville was wrestling Coppin State, which had two heavyweights. Hitchcock told Myers he would be wrestling both of them.
Myers remembers that he had already wrestled national champion Carlton Haselrig three times that season as well as runner-up Dean Hall, but didn't mind because he had aspirations of qualifying for nationals and looked forward to the competition.
"When it came to the first bout, I went like hell trying to get a pin because I knew I had to wrestle another match,'' Myers said. "I couldn't get the pin, so I had to wrestle all seven minutes and I was tired and walked off the mat.''
Hitchcock immediately confronted Myers and asked where he was going. Myers told him he was going to get a drink.
"He squirted me in the face with a water bottle, said, 'There you go' and sent me back onto the mat. He was just pushing me and testing me at that point,'' Myers said.
Myers will never forget one year going to the NCAA championships during one of the three years that Bloomsburg University's Ricky Bonomo, whom Hitchcock had coached at Lake-Lehman, won the NCAA 118-pound title.
"Ricky's dad came up to Shorty and was shaking his hand and hugging him. He said, 'Remember the time the boys were in 10th grade and they came home and said they weren't going to wrestle again? You came to the house, broke their (bedroom) door down and dragged them out from underneath the bed. If it wasn't for you, I don't know where they'd be.' ''
Ricky and his twin brother, Rocky, each won state titles under Hitchcock.
Randy Watts, a former teammate of Hitchcock at Bloomsburg, now an assistant coach at Warrior Run High School, likes to tell a story that he heard from their first coach at Bloomsburg, Russ Houk.
Watts and Hitchcock were working for Houk at the latter's wrestling camp in Sullivan County. They were helping build some new pavilions and Hitchcock was on a roof driving nails.
He had hit his thumb so many times with the hammer that he had it wrapped with electrical tape. Houk climbed a ladder to check on Hitchcock, reached the top and, while he was talking with Hitchcock, the latter accidentally hammered his thumb again.
According to the story, Hitchcock laid his thumb down and purposely hit it with the hammer again. Houk supposedly told people later, "I knew I had a good one, then.''
"He was hard-nosed and tough and he went on to become the outstanding wrestler in the nation in 1974 ,and that's why,'' Watts said.
Watts said that while wrestling in the finals of the World Games, Hitchcock put his opponent into a headlock and squeezed so hard, he broke his own ribs and lost.
"Supposedly he had some hairline fractures,'' Watts said.
Myers said that Hitchcock has even had an affect on this year's Seals' team.
The Seals standout 275-pounder, junior Jay O'Hora, is competing because of Hitchcock.
The O'Horas were neighbors of Hitchcock before moving to Selinsgrove from Lancaster. Hitchcock talked O'Hora into trying wrestling and it has worked out well for him.
Joe Bordell, Hitchcock's assistant during his two years as the head coach at Shamokin, said he has always wondered how far the program may have gone had Hitchcock stayed around.
Hitchcock left to pursue his master's degree and coach at North Carolina State and later became the head coach at Lake-Lehman High School. There, he won the state team title in 1981.
"We inherited a program that was really down,'' Bordell said, noting that the Indians were 5-9 and 6-8 those two seasons.
The highlight was the District 4 championship won by 103-pounder Tim Shipe.
Bordell, who also wrestled with Hitchock at Bloomsburg, said, "We didn't know how to coach. We were both young and feeling our oats and feeling like we were the smartest guys in town,'' he said.
"Then we started going against Ron Kanaskie (Danville), Paul Stehman (then at Line Mountain, and later the Shamokin coach) and Phil Lockcuff (then at Shikellamy),'' Bordell said.
"We didn't realize it at the time (because of the losing), but that was a great time and we had great fun,'' Bordell said.
"We didn't have a chance to get what we wanted to do accomplished. Once we finally established the elementary and junior high programs, it was time for him go, and I got out of coaching for 12 years after that,'' Bordell said.
Bordell, a PIAA champ in 1968, returned as Stehman's assistant and stayed another 12 years before retiring from coaching. He still teaches at the Shamokin middle school.
Among the area wrestlers now on the Millersville team are Curtis Yeager, a freshman from Bloomsburg, and sophomore Marcus Pensyl of Shamokin.
By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
He started out as a basketball player, where his size and his talents, or lack thereof, gave him his lifelong nickname and prompted a switch to the sport which would make him famous.
Floyd "Shorty'' Hitchcock wrestled only two seasons at Wyalusing High School &emdash; and won state titles both years.
His achievements allowed him to be mentioned in the same breath as the greats in his sport, people like Dan Gable, Gray Simons and John Smith.
His first job as a head coach came at Shamokin High School in 1974. After two seasons, he moved on to North Carolina State to pursue his master's degree. He returned to high school coaching at Lake-Lehman, where he directed the Black Knights to a state team championship with three individual state titlists.
Today, in his 18th season as the head wrestling coach at Millersville University, Hitchcock is fighting bigger odds than he ever faced on the mat.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September and told he had six months to live.
He has had to give up his full-time job, as a third-grade teacher in Hamilton Elementary School in Lancaster, but for much of the season, until his condition deteriorated in recent days, he continued to attend practices and meets and encourage his wrestlers, who in turn helped encourage him.
"We've had a lot of positive support,'' Hitchcock said.
"People have been donating dinners. One of my old assistant coaches started a fund for my medical bills at one of the local banks. Back home, they did a fund-raiser for me where they had a silent auction and bake sales and raised quite a few dollars,'' he said.
Hitchcock had been going to a local clinic once a week for chemotherapy.
He said that it can be encouraging as well as discouraging meeting others in his situation.
"It's been good and bad. You hear all these stories that they're getting better, and, all of a sudden, you read their obituary in the paper,'' he said.
"You know it could be you at any time.''
"That's one of the toughest things. I just turned 50 in September. I planned on living a couple more years, enjoying life, being part of my family.
"At a time that I should be laying back and then saying 'It's my turn to get out of teaching and retire,' all of a sudden I run into this and I'm on disability. It's a whole new life,'' he said.
Hitchcock has continued to hope for the medical breakthrough that will save him.
"They're going to change my chemo and there's something out every day, if we get approval from the medical field to pay for some of this,'' he said in an interview conducted in January.
Hitchcock's address for those wishing to write is 15 Girard Ave., Lancaster, Pa. 17603.